At House hearing, Vermont National Guard addresses annual sexual assault report
Last year, the Vermont National Guard investigated five sexual assault allegations, including two of rape, involving its members, according to an annual report discussed Tuesday in the House Committee on General Affairs, Housing and Human Resources. military affairs. Three of these incidents allegedly took place that year, while two occurred in previous years.
Lawmakers addressed the annual report, which has been required by law for nearly a decade, as they considered H.666. The bill would create a consultant position to help lawmakers oversee the Guard’s efforts to reduce sexual misconduct within its ranks.
“Commanders and leaders have created an atmosphere in which survivors of sexual assault come forward with the confidence that their reports will be taken seriously and that they will receive the necessary support and care,” said Adjutant General Greg Knight in a memorandum to the Legislative Assembly. .
The Vermont National Guard has been required to submit a sexual misconduct report to the Legislature each year since 2014, after allegations of assault and harassment prompted a top adjutant general candidate to withdraw from the race in January 2013.
In January 2019, Governor Phil Scott asked the Adjutant General to conduct a top-down review of the Guard’s sexual assault policies and procedures after VTDigger released a seven-part series in 2018 on Guard misconduct, including allegations of sexual assault. , harassment and retaliation against a whistleblower.
Nikki Sorrell, the Guard’s sexual assault prevention and response coordinator and the first civilian to write the report, presented highlights to committee members during Tuesday’s hearing. In the 2021 federal fiscal year — which ran from October 2020 to September 2021 — Sorrell’s office followed up on five sexual assault reports, she said, including three that allegedly took place in the during this period, one in 2019 and one in 2005.
All of the accused perpetrators were members of the Vermont National Guard, she said. Survivors included four members of the Guard and one civilian.
Sorrell’s office also began tracking another federal case going through military tribunal that was reported by an active Guard member overseas late in the fiscal year, she said. The accused is also a member of the Guard. The survivor is at home receiving support from Sorrell’s office, she said.
There were no reports of sexual harassment or discrimination based on sexual orientation during the year in question.
The Guard’s latest annual report, for fiscal year 2020, documented three cases of sexual assault and two cases of sexual harassment between October 2019 and September 2020.
Previous reports of favoritism and members not feeling comfortable speaking up about issues led the Guard to create an Anti-Harassment Policy in February 2021 and an Equal Employment Policy in September 2021. A draft military equal opportunity policy is also under review. All three policies exceed federal requirements and National Guard Bureau standards, according to the 2021 report.
A new “Reach Up” feature in the Guard mobile app now offers members an easy way to file complaints, even anonymously, the report notes.
Past climate surveys have also revealed a perception of unfairness related to job assignments and hiring practices, particularly for women. But in testimony before the House committee on Wednesday, Knight pointed to the gender statistics in the report as “a critical element” that showed some improvement in leadership assignments. He said it “reflected the direction of the National Guard.”
Knight told lawmakers that the Vermont National Guard was the first to open up recruiting to women throughout the organization.
According to demographic data presented by Knight, women make up 21.2% of assigned personnel and hold 23% of leadership positions. Additionally, two women are currently being trained as F-35 fighter pilot candidates — a first, he said.
“When I was elected to this position, one of my primary goals was to improve equal opportunity in our organization,” Knight said. “We are literally correcting centuries of combat arms being exclusively male occupations.”
Committee members said they believed the report had made “incredible progress” and said they would welcome suggestions for specific legislative actions that could support the Guard.
Stay on top of all Vermont criminal justice news. Sign up here to receive a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s court and crime reports.